Opinion

Politics is a whole different ball game to soccer... and it's just as well

17 June 2018 - 00:00

Whether it is brave or foolhardy to play hopscotch with a herd of horned animals as they charge terrified through narrow streets is a question that divides students of human nature. Some think the Spanish sport of the running of the bulls in Pamplona shows extreme courage. I think it cravenly asinine.
There was no question about Spain's valour this week, however. Two days before the Fifa World Cup, the Royal Spanish Football Federation fired national coach Julen Lopetegui for unethical behaviour after discovering that he had secretly negotiated a deal with Real Madrid.
That takes guts. The red and gold armada captured the cup eight years ago and the heady taste of victory sharpens the appetite for more. You'd think the Spanish potentates would have gone to any lengths to cover up the scandal if it meant upsetting the team and possibly scuppering their chances.
Imagine if the news of Jacob Zuma's involvement in state capture had broken on the eve of national elections in South Africa. Would the ANC have fired him regardless of how it might have affected the party's chances at the polls?
Probably not. As it is, it took extra injury time before he was sent off.One might be tempted to conclude that politicians are less courageous than those who run sports teams, but that's not entirely fair. It's a lot easier for the manager of a football team to be all heroic and honest (not that they always are), because a politician who does the same thing has a great deal more to lose. Not just his job - he puts his entire party at risk, which is not the case in football.
Spain might lose the World Cup, but Spanish football fans are not going to suddenly start supporting Portugal just because there's a bit of a dust-up in their team's administration. Leaving patriotism out of it, even at club level no self-respecting football fan would ever switch to another team.
Things are different in politics. If radio talkshows are any measure of public sentiment, the DA is leaking supporters by the bucketful because of internal squabbling. The same happened to the ANC in the year BC (Before Cyril) and there are indications that Floyd Shivambu's un-African rant has caused more than a few berets to be binned.
There may be other comparisons to be made between football and politics, but there is no connection between loyalty to a team and allegiance to a party. Football fans mate for life. People remain true to a political party only for as long as it reflects their values and delivers what they expect from it.
And that is as it should be. Loyalty is an admirable trait in a football supporter, but fickleness is exactly what you want in a democracy, because political leaders are there only because of the people who vote for them, and if they do not adequately represent the interests of those voters they need to be red-carded.
Given all this, you'd think more political parties would act with bold Spanish audacity. A zero-tolerance approach to corruption would entail booting out the corrupted post-haste.
But that, of course, is not how it works.Faced with the threat of potential scandal, the first thing most politicians consider is how to pull the wool over the eyes of the proletariat. If that doesn't work, blame it on someone else. As a last resort, take responsibility.
Footballers have no such worries. They can do whatever they like, short of being barred from playing, in the calm knowledge that their posters will remain stuck up on the walls of their fans.
In football divorce cases, however, when a player leaves a team, the team gets custody of the supporters. If Percy Tau moved from Mamelodi Sundowns to Orlando Pirates, Sundowns fans would not rush off to buy black-and-white T-shirts. They might cheer for Tau when Pirates played any team other than Sundowns, but there would be no question of changing team loyalty.
Not so in politics. When Patricia de Lille merged the Independent Democrats with the DA, she took voters with her. How many depends on who you speak to, but it is proof that in politics, personalities often carry more weight than team colours.
Another difference between the beautiful game and the sometimes dirty trenches of political battle is that democracy, for all its flaws, is still probably the least bad system of governance available to us, if the aim is to give everyone a theoretically fair shot. In football, democracy would be a disaster.
If you want further proof of how different politics and football are, and how much more important football is, consider this: football players are strongly discouraged from showing overt support for any political party or cause. It has never explicitly been stated why this is, but the implication is that their fans would naturally follow their lead, which might cause chaos if you had warring factions in one stadium.
Politicians, on the other hand, have never been told not to declare their interest in a particular team. Because it doesn't matter. Football allegiance is prior to political partisanship. Can you imagine a still-undecided teenage football fan deciding to support Kaizer Chiefs purely because Bantu Holomisa does?
So, well done to those honest Spaniards. Just don't expect our party leaders to follow suit, because politics is nothing like football at all.
• Barney Mthombothi is on leave

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